Aug 20, 2021
NATO Officials Afghanistan Update Press Conference Transcript
NATO officials held a press conference on August 20, 2021 to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Jens Stoltenberg: (05:20)
…in Afghanistan. And have a humble approach, because when we see the challenges, the crisis that we’re faced with in Afghanistan, of course, there are some serious lessons to be learned after two decades in Afghanistan for NATO.
Jens Stoltenberg: (05:39)
Then, fundamentally the message from all allies, of course, and also United States. And also what is reflected in the statement from foreign ministers today. It’s the same. That the government, the rulers, the Taliban day, in Kabul, in Afghanistan, they need to live up to their international commitments. To not harbor, support, international terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, ISIS, to respect human rights, including the rights of women, and also to give a free passage to people so they can leave the country. And that of course also includes Afghans. And this has been expressed by allies, individual allies, and today also in a joint statement by all NATO allies, coming from the foreign minister meeting.
For the next question, we’ll go to Paris, Melissa Bell for CNN.
Melissa Bell: (06:40)
Secretary general. Thank you very much. I wanted to ask you, first of all, whether you agreed with this tape that’s been made these last few days, that this was the greatest debacle in the history of NATO. Also, whether you don’t think that what’s happened these last few days is really a nail in the coffin of Article Five, that allies can go into battle together, but once they don’t withdraw together, as a coalition, NATO has a problem.
Jens Stoltenberg: (07:05)
This is a tragedy first and foremost, for the people of Afghanistan. We have been there for 20 years. We have deployed the hundreds of thousands of NATO troops. Several thousands have paid the ultimate price and the hundreds of thousands of non-US allies have served alongside US soldiers in Afghanistan, and more than thousand have paid the ultimate price. So, this has really been a huge effort by this alliance.
Jens Stoltenberg: (07:37)
When the United States signed an agreement with the Taliban back in February of 2020, of course, then it was very difficult for a European allies to continue to stay, because as you alluded to, we went into Afghanistan as a response to an attack on the United States. And when the United States decided to end its military mission there with the agreement signed back in February, 2020, then it was no viable, practical option for the other allies, European allies and Canada to remain without the United States.
Jens Stoltenberg: (08:18)
NATO remains a strong alliance. NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement, or collective defense in Europe since the end of the Cold War. And it was a very clear message from the meeting today that what ever happens in Afghanistan, that should not undermine our ability to protect NATO allied countries, NATO allied territory. And that was a very clear message from the foreign ministers today.
The next question goes to Reuters and Sabine Siebold.
Sabine Siebold: (08:53)
Thank you, Secretary General. I wanted to ask you whether you have any idea, or how long you expect Kabul Airport to remain open and to continue evacuations. And the second one, if I may, you thanked several states for establishing security at Kabul Airport, amongst them Turkey. Could you work out a little bit on that one, please? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: (09:20)
So Turkey has been responsible for the airport for several years, and they continue to play a key role in operating the airport. The big difference now is of course that because of the crisis, because of the difficulties, because of the huge immigration effort, all their allies, and especially United States has also deployed a large number of troops to the airport. And all allies thanked today, those allies who are helping to operate the airport, in particular Turkey, United States, United Kingdom, but also some other allies who have deployed different kinds of capabilities to be able to run the airport. And also several hundred NATO officials, civilian officials, civilian staff are also helping to operate the airport in close cooperation with United States and other NATO allies.
Jens Stoltenberg: (10:21)
Then on the timelines, that was an issue that was discussed during the meeting today. And several allies raised the issue of potentially extending the timeline to get more people out. The US has stated that the timeline ends on the 31st of August, but several of our allies raised during the discussion today, the need to potentially extend that, to be able to get more people out. Our focus is to get, of course, our own staff people, people working for NATO, for NATO allied countries, for partner countries, but also Afghans. And we are working hard to help the Afghans. We have been able to get some out, but we are working hard to get more Afghans out of Afghanistan.
For the next question, we go to a Geo.tv News From Pakistan and Khalid Hameed Farooqi.
Khalid. We can’t hear you.
Jens Stoltenberg: (11:37)
If not, we can go to Washington Post.
Okay. No, we can’t hear… Yes, please go ahead.
Khalid Hameed Farooqi: (11:46)
Secretary General, it seems that Pakistan emerging as a consensus builder, contacting previous Iran government, previous [foreign language 00:12:01] and bringing all of [inaudible 00:12:07] together. So will you support this efforts of consensus building by the Pakistan?
Jens Stoltenberg: (12:18)
I think it’s important now is that whatever new government we will get in Kabul, that this is an inclusive government. And everything that can help to support such a process, I think is helpful. When it comes to Pakistan. I think that the Pakistan has a special responsibility, partly because Pakistan is a neighbor of Afghanistan, and partly because of Pakistan’s close relationship to Taliban. So, I think Pakistan has a special responsibility to make sure that Afghanistan live up to its international commitments. And also that Afghanistan not once again, becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. A stable Afghanistan is in the interest of all countries and not least, the neighbor’s as Pakistan.
The next question goes to Washington Post and Reis Thebault.
Reis Thebault: (13:29)
Thank you. Secretary General, before Kabul fell, you warned the Taliban that, “They will not be recognized by the international community if they take the country by force.” Now that they’ve done that, what is NATO’s position on recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan? Is recognition out of the question, or is it instead conditioned on a set of criteria? And does NATO currently have a line of communication with the Taliban? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: (14:02)
NATO’s not a nation, so NATO does not recognize states, but of course, NATO allies can do that. And it also clearly stated in the meeting today that diplomatic recognition is something, which there has to be conditions on how the new government behave and to what extent they live up to their international commitments. So the message is reflected in the statement agreed by foreign ministers today. And that is about the need for Afghanistan to live up to commitments, for instance, a commitment in the agreement with United States signed in February 2020, or last year. Where they clearly state that they should not support, provide a safe haven for international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, or ISIS. So that’s a very obese and important commitment, because NATO went into Afghanistan, our main task, and Afghanistan has to prevent the country for once again, becoming a platform for launching terrorist attacks against our own countries.
Jens Stoltenberg: (15:18)
For 20 years, we have prevented such attacks, terrorist attacks from Afghanistan against NATO allied countries. We need to preserve those gains. And we also discussed during the meeting today, how we can preserve those gains, including by stating very clearly to the new Afghan rulers, the new government, that these are commitments we expect them to adhere to. Then of course, we also expect them to live up to other commitments, including the respect for human rights and the rights of all women.
Jens Stoltenberg: (15:52)
And then some NATO allies have not recognized the new government, partly that’s because there is no new government to recognize. But some allies, and I think that is important, they have what I will call operational tactical contact with Taliban. But that is to ensure safe passage to manage the situation outside the airport, and so on. We have to distinguish these kinds of tactical, operational contact with Taliban, which I think is needed, important and diplomatic recognition. That’s two different things.
The next question goes to Lailuma Sadid from Brussels Morning.
Lailuma Sadid: (16:35)
Thank you very much all and Mr. Secretary General. As you know, for everyone asking about recognition and also all the Pakistan, my question would be about what is next? Also, how do you see the future without any government and this kind of situation. And also NATO has a unified commitment for Afghanistan to get out the people, as you said. But who can make this together? Because some of the NATO country, they couldn’t send an airplane, or some kind of things for bringing back the Afghan people. How do you manage this kind of things, especially for the moment with the huge people arriving at the are at the airport. And I hope in this way, it becomes solve all the problem that they leave the Afghan people, If they want to leave the Afghanistan, then leave them. Thank you very much.
Jens Stoltenberg: (17:47)
The meeting we had today was a very timely, and I will also say constructive meeting on NATO foreign ministers, because we addressed the urgent issue of evacuation, but also some of the more longer term challenges, counter terrorism, how to have a common political approach to the new rulers in Kabul. And also how to conduct a lessons learned process and how to maintain the unity of the alliance.
Jens Stoltenberg: (18:16)
When it comes to the immediate and most urgent task of evacuation. I welcome the fact that many allies today clearly made offers to host Afghans, to receive them in their countries. So, if we get them out, there are many NATO allies who ready to receive either temporary, and also a permanent resettlement in NATO countries. Many allies have also sent down planes. So of course, United States, but also other allies, have planes in the region and many have been able to fly in and also take out people from the airport.
Jens Stoltenberg: (19:08)
So, that’s in a way, in a very dire and difficult situation, that is some good news that allies are ready to receive Afghans and also ready to send down planes and help to evacuate. The big challenge is to get people on those planes. The limiting factor is not the lack of planes. The limiting factor now is actually the ability to get people into the airport process and on the planes. So, that was an issue that was thoroughly discussed in the meeting today raised by many allies, the need to work harder on how can we get more people who are now outside the airport, into the airport, then processed and then onto the planes. Because the paradox is that we have more planes than we have people, or passengers, because the process of getting people into, and especially Afghans into the airport, processed, is now the big, big, big challenge.
Jens Stoltenberg: (20:08)
So I think that’s one of the reasons why this meeting was so important, because then we had 30 allies sitting around the table, and focusing on perhaps the most difficult and urgent task now. And that is to enable more people, and make it possible for more people, especially Afghans to get to the airport and into the airport.
Next we’ll go to dpa, and [inaudible 00:20:34]
Lailuma Sadid: (20:33)
… they’d be safe.
Sorry, Lailuma you had a follow-up question?
Lailuma Sadid: (20:43)
Yeah, just a small one. I would like to ask the woman activists, is there any guarantee they will be saved? This is my really always support for the woman.
Jens Stoltenberg: (20:56)
NATO allies are doing whatever they can to get as many people as possible out to Afghanistan. And we have been able to get thousands out already, also many Afghans, several NATO allies. I also in particular raised the issue of not only helping citizens from our own countries, from partner nations and Afghans who have worked with us, but also all their Afghans at risk. But again, we face the same challenge to get these people to the airport and into the airport. And that was one of the main issues discussed at the meeting today. And we are working hard on how we can make more progress on getting Afghans at risk to the airport and into the airport.
Next we go to dpa.
Speaker 8: (21:47)
Thank you, Secretary General, how many Afghans who worked for NATO still have to be evacuated? And can you tell us how many places for relocation were pledged today by allies? And if I may, another question. Is it correct that there are plans to set up a central reception center for rescued Afghans in Kaszuba Poland? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: (22:12)
As we are discussing different sites for a temporary staging, housing areas for Africans coming out of Afghanistan, and then several allies offered, declared their readiness to also resettle on a more permanent basis. So, the challenge now is actually not to find the allies who are willing to receive Afghans, either on a temporary basis, or permanent basis. The challenge is to get them to the airport and into the airport, because we have countries ready to receive. We have planes ready to transport them. The challenge is to get them to the airport. And that was one of the main issues raised, discussed at the meeting today. And I think that in itself, that you have third allies pinpointing, stating so clearly, and also addressing and discussing how we can make progress on that issue is important, because this is an urgent need to make progress on how to get more people to the airport and into the airport.
Jens Stoltenberg: (23:29)
Then your second question, what was that?
Speaker 8: (23:32)
On the figures, how many Afghans is there to be evacuated and how many places for relocation of a pledge?
Jens Stoltenberg: (23:44)
NATO, as we have around 800 contractors and others who have worked for NATO. That number has now been reduced to a bit less than 500 at the airport. And a bit less than 200 of those are Afghans. But those Afghans who have worked for NATO, for the NATO agencies. Then of course, on top of that, you have a lot of Afghans who have worked for different NATO allied countries like Germany, like United Kingdom and many other allies. That number is much bigger, but I know that NATO allies together and individual allies are now doing whatever they can to try to get all these Afghans out.
And for our last question, we’ll go to [inaudible 00:24:32].
Speaker 9: (24:37)
Thank you, Secretary General. Do you know the extent of NATO finance arms that are now possibly in control of the Taliban? And is NATO considering destroying any weapons, or vehicles to ensure that they are not getting in Taliban hands? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: (24:54)
So NATO has ended it’s a military operation in Afghanistan. As we all know, some NATO allies are present at the airport. And NATO ended our mission in Afghanistan, because 30 allies agreed to do so. We agreed to do so this spring, but that was a direct result of the US agreement with the Taliban in February 2020, where they agreed to end the US presence. We have different NATO allies like Norway, and many other allies. They have done whatever they can, over now several months, partly to of course, get all their soldiers out, but also to take back as much equipment as possible. Some equipment has also been destroyed, but I don’t have the exact numbers for all the different allies, because many allies operated in Afghanistan and each ally have had their responsibility for own equipment. Some has been taken back, and some has been destroyed. And some is of course, still in Afghanistan.
Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Thank you.